In his final at-bat of the three-game series in Seattle, Ichiro hit a solo homer to right field. But was it his final at-bat at Safeco for his career?
If he has his way, Ichiro Suzuki will still be playing Major League Baseball long enough to find his way back to Safeco Field in some team’s uniform.
Now at age 43 and playing minimally for the Marlins, his once stated goal of playing till age 50 seems far-fetched and unattainable. However, playing for a team in 2018 or beyond isn’t quite the impossibility. And that could mean another trip back to Seattle to face the organization that gave him his chance in the big leagues.
“This is home,” he said through his interpreter on Monday evening.
But if for some reason that doesn’t happen, if Wednesday was his last game at the stadium where he blossomed into a superstar, then he bid it a fitting farewell.
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With just an infield single in seven at-bats in the series, Ichiro stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the ninth with the Marlins down 10-4. Facing right-hander Evan Marshall, he ambushed a belt-high, first-pitch fastball, sending a low line drive just over the wall in right field for a solo homer. The crowd of 27,147, which was already standing and applauding in his final at-bat, roared in amazement and approval as the ball cleared the fence. If only for a moment, they were transported back to a time when every one of his at-bats brought a buzz to the city. Chants of I-CHI-RO! filled the park like in years past. He saluted the cheering fans after crossing home plate, removing his helmet and giving a slight bow.
“It was my last at bat, obviously, and the last chance,” he said through his interpreter. “With the game the way it was going, that’s what I wanted to hit, right there. I saw the ball go over the fence and I have to pinch myself to make sure that really happened. I feel grateful that happened.”
Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager could only smile a little when his former teammate jogged by him as he rounded the bases.
“You don’t want to see your opponent hit a home run off you, but at that moment, that was pretty special,” Seager said. “I had chills for him. Obviously playing against him you don’t want him to hit a homer there, but when he did, in Safeco, with all the things he’s done here, that was a pretty special baseball moment. That was bigger than just this game.”
There was no exchange of words.
“I didn’t say anything,” Seager said. “I just kind of looked at him, and he kind of gave me a look, too. No words were spoken, but it was a pretty cool moment.”
Of his fantastic catches, the wins of the 2001 season, the multi-hit games and breaking George Sisler’s season hit record here, the homer will be added to his fond recollections of playing at Safeco.
“I can’t really put a rank on that, but I’ll remember this one,” he said. “This will be a special one for awhile.”
But was it his last at-bat in the stadium where he played in 936 games, posting a .319 batting average, notching 1,239 hits, 133 doubles, 39 triples and now 54 home runs? He never once considered it when he stepped to the plate.
“Not really,” he said. “I really didn’t think that way. I think I’ll be back whenever our next game is here again. I hope to be back. I just thought it was the last game, this time, this series. That’s really how I look at it.”